UA instrument captures colorful images of Saturn's northern ligh - Tucson News Now

UA instrument captures colorful images of Saturn's northern lights

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Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University

Portions of this article are from NASA.

Earth is not the only planet that experiences auroras, the northern and southern lights that color the sky near the poles.  

In spring of 2013 NASA spacecraft captured images of the lights dancing in the sky over Saturn.   NASA's Hubble Telescope saw the auroras from its orbit around Earth. 

The Cassini spacecraft, which orbits Saturn, was able to get close-up views of the lights. 

Mobile users Click here for video of the auroras.

One of the instruments on Cassini is operated by a team of scientists at the University of Arizona. 

The images of the lights were taken in April and May of last year.

On Earth, the auroras have a greenish turning to reddish hue due to "excited nitrogen and oxygen molecules" in the atmosphere, according to NASA.  

However, Saturn's auroras are green at the bottom but purple at the top.

According to NASA this is because the planet's atmosphere has a higher content of hydrogen molecules compared to Earth. 

Wayne Pryor is a Cassini co-investigator at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Arizona.  

"This is our best look yet at the rapidly changing patterns of auroral emission," said Pryor. "Some bright spots come and go from image to image. Other bright features persist and rotate around the pole, but at a rate slower than Saturn's rotation."

Saturn is a gas giant planet and is warmer high in the atmosphere than would be expected from a planet so far from the sun.  

Scientists hope the aurora data collected can be used to break down this mystery.  

Ultraviolet and infrared images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft and Hubble Space Telescope show active and quiet auroras at Saturn's north and south poles. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University 

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